Published online by Cambridge University Press: 06 March 2015
Throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Republican Party dominated American elections in all geographical areas except the former Confederacy, which remained solidly Democratic. Despite this, Southern states were consistently provided with a sizable delegation to the Republican National Convention (as much as 26 percent of the total). This raises the question: Why would a region that delivered no votes on Election Day be given a substantial say in the selection of the party's presidential candidate? Previous research on the role Southern delegates played in Republican conventions has been limited to individual cases or to studies only tangentially related to this question. We explore the continuous and sizable presence of Southern delegates at Republican conventions by conducting a historical overview of the 1880–1928 period. We find that Republican Party leaders—and particularly presidents—adopted a “Southern strategy” by investing heavily in maintaining a minor party organization in the South, as a way to create a reliable voting base at conventions. We also show that as the Republican Party's strength across the country grew under the “System of 1896,” challenges to the delegate apportionment method—and thereby efforts to minimize Southern influence at Republican conventions—increased substantially.
1. The academic literature on Reconstruction is, of course, voluminous. The standard, comprehensive account is Foner, Eric, Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863–1877 (New York: HarperCollins, 1988)Google Scholar. The politics of Reconstruction, specifically, is covered superbly in a clear and concise fashion in Valelly, Richard M., The Two Reconstructions: The Struggle for Black Enfranchisement (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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5. The GOP would formally abdicate from any future Reconstruction efforts in 1909, as William Howard Taft made clear in his presidential inaugural address. See Sherman, Richard B., The Republican Party and Black America From McKinley to Hoover, 1896–1933 (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1973)Google Scholar, 86; Valelly, The Two Reconstructions, 133.
6. We thank an anonymous reviewer for suggesting that we make this “Southern strategy” frame explicit.
7. For a pre–World War II example, see Jenkins, Jeffery A., “The First ‘Southern Strategy’: The Republican Party and Contested Election Cases in the Late-Nineteenth Century House,” in Party, Process, and Political Change in Congress, Volume 2: Further New Perspectives on the History of Congress, ed. Brady, David W. and McCubbins, Mathew D. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007).Google Scholar
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13. Another way that the Republicans tried to maintain a foothold in the South—beyond statutory attempts like the Lodge Bill—was through contested (disputed) election cases. In the five Houses in which the GOP maintained majority control in the twenty-year period between 1881 and 1901, the Republicans flipped twenty seats in the former Confederate South from Democratic to Republican, based on charges related to fraud, intimidation, election irregularities, and so forth. The breakdown of those twenty is as follows: five seats in the 47th Congress (1881–83), five in the 51st (1889–91), four in the 54th (1895–97), three in the 55th (1897–99), and three in the 56th (1899–1901). In the five succeeding Congresses, the 57th–61st (1901–11), in which they maintained majority control of the House, the Republicans flipped no seats in the former-Confederate states. See Jenkins, Jeffery A., “Partisanship and Contested Election Cases in the House of Representatives, 1789–2002,” Studies in American Political Development 18 (2004): 112–35CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Jenkins, “The First ‘Southern Strategy.’” On the broader subject of disputed House seats and GOP strategy, see Valelly, Richard M., “National Parties and Racial Disenfranchisement,” in Classifying By Race, ed. Peterson, Paul E. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995)Google Scholar.
14. The 1912 motion also would have provided two delegates each for Alaska, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines.
15. In implementing the change, the RNC followed the advice of a Committee on Representation that it had appointed earlier that year. See “Harmony the Note of Republican Talk,” New York Times, May 25, 1913; “Republicans Vote Delegate Reforms,” New York Times, December 17, 1913.
16. This account is confirmed in an examination of delegate lists included in the official proceedings of the 1916 Republican convention. See Official Report of the Proceedings of the Sixteenth Republican National Convention (New York: The Tenny Press, 1916)Google Scholar. Hanes Walton, however, states that the cuts in Southern delegates were not agreed to until the 1916 convention and did not go into effect until 1920. Walton's account appears to be based on an incorrect reading of W. F. Nowlin's The Negro in American National Politics, which states that the cuts went into effect in 1916 and were kept in place for the 1920 convention. See Walton, Hanes Jr., Black Republicans: The Politics of the Black and Tans (Metuchen, NJ: The Scarecrow Press, 1975)Google Scholar, 152; Nowlin, W. F., The Negro in American National Politics (Boston: The Stratford Company, 1931), 72–73 Google Scholar.
17. “Republicans Cut Quota From South,” New York Times, June 9, 1921.
18. Under this reapportionment scheme, the South maintained a roughly similar percentage of the total number of delegates in 1924 as it had held in 1920. See “South Wins Back Delegates Dropped by 1920 Convention,” New York Times, December 13, 1923.
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23. See “Republican Representation,” New York Times, December 7, 1883; “Republican Representation,” Washington Post, December 7, 1883. Note that both newspapers, in characterizing “southern states,” also include Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, and West Virginia. Only Kentucky, of these four, would have lost Convention delegates under the Frye plan.
24. “A Convention Called,” Washington Post, December 13, 1883; “Republican Plans for ’84,” New York Times, December 13, 1883.
26. De Santis, “President Arthur and the Independent Movements in the South in 1882,” 354.
27. On these efforts by Arthur and Chandler across the various Southern states, see Doenecke, Justin D., The Presidencies of James A. Garfield and Chester A. Arthur (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1981), 114–23Google Scholar.
28. For coverage of the debate on the apportionment of delegates, see Proceedings of the Eighth Republican National Convention, Held at Chicago, June 3, 4, 5, and 6, 1884 (Chicago: Rand, McNally, 1884), 84–91.Google Scholar
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30. As Leon Richardson notes, “Arthur did not have the national appeal of Blaine; his strength, so far as he had any, aside from his creditable record as President was derived from his control of patronage.” See Richardson, William E. Chandler, 347.
31. Calhoun, Conceiving a New Republic, 204.
32. See Reitano, Joanne R., The Tariff Question in the Gilded Age: The Great Debate of 1888 (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994)Google Scholar; Calhoun, Charles W., Minority Victory: Gilded Age Politics and the Front Porch Campaign of 1888 (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2008)Google Scholar.
33. Calhoun notes that one of Sherman's “lieutenants” was former Illinois congressman Green R. Raum, who was “long an ardent advocate of blacks' civil rights [and] was particularly proficient at persuading southern delegates to enlist in Sherman's cause.” Calhoun, Minority Victory, 95.
34. Calhoun, Minority Victory, 85.
35. Kehl, James A., Boss Rule in the Gilded Age: Matt Quay of Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1981)Google Scholar, 87.
36. Sherman, John, Recollections of Forty Years in the House, Senate, and Cabinet: An Autobiography, Vol. II (Chicago: The Werner Company, 1895)Google Scholar, 1129. Sherman, in discussing whether he harbored any resentments toward those who may have contributed to his defeat in 1888, said the following: “The only feeling of resentment I entertained was in regard to the action of the friends of General Alger in tempting with money poor negroes to violate the instructions of their constituents.” Ibid., 1032.
37. See “Alger Makes a Reply,” Washington Post, November 22, 1895; “Ire of Alger Aroused,” Chicago Tribune, November 22, 1895; “Alger Answers Sherman,” New York Times, November 22, 1895. According to Alger, William T. Sherman is to have said: “You made a good show of votes, and if you bought some, according to universal usage, I don't blame you. I laughed at John for trying to throw off on anybody. He was fairly beaten at the convention.”
38. As president, Harrison was an advocate of black civil rights and supported congressional efforts to pass a new voting-rights enforcement bill (i.e., the Lodge Bill). See De Santis, Vincent, “Benjamin Harrison and the Republican Party in the South, 1889–1893,” Indiana Magazine of History 51 (1955): 279–302.Google Scholar
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40. This outcome of this dispute resulted in the seating of an all-white delegation, rather than a mixed delegation of whites and blacks. See Nathanson, Iric, “African Americans and the 1892 Republican National Convention, Minneapolis,” Minnesota History 61 (2008): 76–82 Google Scholar. This was the first hint of the lily-white versus black & tan dispute that would plague the Southern GOP for the next several decades. For a detailed history of this internal Republican dispute in the South, see Walton, Black Republicans.
41. Quoted in Kehl, Boss Rule in the Gilded Age, 172.
42. Quotes from Kehl, Boss Rule in the Gilded Age, 174.
43. Horner, William T., Ohio's Kingmaker: Mark Hanna, Man and Myth (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2010)Google Scholar, 141.
44. Kehl, Boss Rule in the Gilded Age, 198. For more on the Thomasville rental strategy, see Bocote, Clarence A., “Negro Officeholders in Georgia under President McKinley,” The Journal of Negro History 44 (1959): 217–39CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Jones, Stanley L., The Presidential Election of 1896 (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1964), 112–13Google Scholar; Walton, Black Republicans, 57–60; Horner, Ohio's Kingmaker, 142–43.
45. Quoted in Kehl, Boss Rule in the Gilded Age, 197.
46. Valelly, “National Parties and Racial Disenfranchisement,” 209.
47. For example, Valelly recounts an incident in North Carolina in 1898 during which Republican Governor Daniel Russell “was nearly lynched by a Democratic mob that stopped his train; he escaped death only because he managed to find a good hiding place on the train” (Valelly, The Two Reconstructions, 131).
48. Another reason for the GOP's shift away from contesting elections in the South was based on a shift in the racial and regional diversity of the party's voting base: “the black-white North-South coalition of 1867–1868 was supplanted by a new white-white North-West coalition,” which saw no value in continuing to contest Southern elections that the party was bound to lose. See Valelly, The Two Reconstructions, 134.
49. “The South; Too Many for ’Em,” Columbus Enquirer Sun, November 28, 1899.
50. The Payne proposal was introduced around the same time that Republicans in Congress attempted to demand enforcement of Section 2 of the Fourteenth Amendment, which would result in a decrease of representation in Southern states in line with the number of black voters that were denied the right to vote. The first attempt to bring such a Fourteenth Amendment challenge against a Southern state came in October 1899, just two months before the RNC meeting that considered Payne's proposal to reapportion Southern delegates. See Jenkins, Jeffery A., Peck, Justin, and Weaver, Vesla M., “Between Reconstructions: Congressional Action on Civil Rights, 1891–1940.” Studies in American Political Development 24 (2010): 57–89.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
51. Cited in Wight, William Ward, Henry Clay Payne: A Life (Milwaukee: Burdick and Allen, 1907)Google Scholar, 102.
52. Wight, Henry Clay Payne, 118.
53. “To Reduce Southern Representation,” Charlotte Daily Observer, November 29, 1899.
54. “Opposed to Mr. Payne's Plan,” Washington Post, December 13, 1899.
55. “Cities in a Fight,” Los Angeles Times, December 14, 1899.
56. “Quakers Make a Deal,” Washington Post, December 14, 1899.
57. Wight, Henry Clay Payne, 104; “Philadelphia June 19: Place and Date Fixed for Republican Convention,” Washington Post, December 16, 1899.
58. Wight, Henry Clay Payne, 105.
59. Croly, Herbert, Marcus Alonzo Hanna: His Life and Work (Hamden, CT: Archon Books, 1965)Google Scholar.
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61. Official Proceedings of the Twelfth Republican National Convention, (Philadelphia: Press of Dunlap Printing Company, 1900)Google Scholar, 99.
62. “Hard Blow for Hanna,” Daily Picayune, June 16, 1900.
63. “Quay's Rap at the South,” New York Times, June 21, 1900.
64. Kehl, Boss Rule in the Gilded Age, 227.
65. “Theodore Roosevelt to be the Unanimous Choice for Vice-President,” Los Angeles Times, June 21, 1900.
66. Croly, Marcus Alonzo Hanna, 415–16.
67. Sherman, The Republican Party and Black America, 31.
68. Gould, Lewis L., The Presidency of Theodore Roosevelt (Lawrence: The University Press of Kansas, 1991), 118–22Google Scholar.
69. Croly, Marcus Alonzo Hanna, 421; Merrill, Horace Samuel and Merrill, Marion Galbraith, The Republican Command, 1897–1913 (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1971)Google Scholar, 181.
70. Fowler, Dorothy Ganfield, The Cabinet Politician: The Postmasters General, 1829–1909 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1943)Google Scholar, 293.
71. “Civil Service Charges,” New York Tribune, April 5, 1909.
72. During a speech in Greensboro, North Carolina on July 9, 1906, Taft had warned that “as long as the Republican party in the Southern states shall represent little save a factional chase for federal offices in which business men and men of substance in the community have no desire to enter, we may expect the present political conditions of the South to continue” (“Civil Service Charges,” New York Tribune, April 5, 1909). Additionally, in a private letter written in January 1908, Taft stated that “the South has been the section of rotten boroughs in the Republican national politics and it would delight me if no southern votes were permitted to have a vote in the National Convention except in proportion to its Republican vote… . But when a man is running for the presidency, and I believe that is what I am now doing, he cannot afford to ignore the tremendous influence, however undue, that the southern vote has.” See Pringle, Henry F., The Life and Times of William Howard Taft: A Biography, Vol. 1 (New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1939)Google Scholar, 347.
73. Sherman, The Republican Party and Black America, 92.
74. Rosewater, Victor, Backstage in 1912: The Inside Story of the Split Republican Convention (Philadelphia: Dorrance, 1932), 29–33 Google Scholar.
75. Milkis, Sidney M., Theodore Roosevelt, the Progressive Party, and the Transformation of American Democracy (Lawrence: The University Press of Kansas, 2009)Google Scholar, 53.
77. Wilensky, Norman M., Conservatives in the Progressive Era: The Taft Republicans of 1912 (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1965)Google Scholar, 17.
79. These numbers include the delegates the Roosevelt campaign contested (112 delegates, of which 66 were from the South). “Taft's Certain List Goes up to 325,” New York Times, June 9, 1912.
80. As Casdorph notes, Roosevelt outperformed Taft in the South during the 1912 presidential election. Casdorph, Paul D., Republicans, Negroes, and Progressives in the South, 1912–1916 (University, Alabama: The University of Alabama Press, 1981)Google Scholar, 151.
81. Wilensky, Conservatives in the Progressive Era, 33.
82. A more detailed analysis of “the 292 most politically active Old Guardsmen” also shows that Southern Taft supporters were more likely to have had prior political experience: 97.4 percent of Southern Taft men did, while in the Northeast, Midwest, and West these numbers were lower (respectively, 82.7 percent, 84.5 percent and 75.7 percent). See Wilensky, Conservatives in the Progressive Era, 33 and 38.
83. “A Naked Issue of Right and Wrong,” Outlook, June 14, 1912.
84. Cited in Clayton, Bruce L., “An Intellectual on Politics: William Garrott Brown and the Ideal of a Two-Party South,” North Carolina Historical Review 42 (1965): 319–34Google Scholar.
85. Milkis, Theodore Roosevelt, the Progressive Party, and the Transformation of American Democracy, 109.
86. Official Report of the Proceedings of the Fifteenth Republican National Convention (New York: The Tenny Press, 1912), 61–88 Google Scholar.
87. Casdorph, Republicans, Negroes, and Progressives in the South, 115; Congressional Quarterly's Guide to U.S. Elections, 3rd ed. (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly, 1994)Google Scholar, 220.
88. Walton, Black Republicans, 156.
89. There is some disagreement as to whether the convention's decisions on the contested delegates were fair or not. Although Root's chairmanship helped Taft in this regard, Roosevelt's failure to successfully challenge Southern delegates may not have been entirely unjust. For one thing, as The Washington Times stated, the challenges of delegates that were selected before Roosevelt could build a campaign machine were largely intended for “psychological effects” so that “a tabulation of delegate strength could be put out that would show Roosevelt holding a good hand” by inflating the number of contested delegates (“Figures to Date Fail to Show Taft Victory,” The Washington Times, June 9, 1912). In his autobiography, Robert La Follette claims that the Roosevelt campaign picked up many delegates in the run up to the convention “because of the false claims put forth by his managers that he had a large lead in the contest, claims which they well knew to be false.” See Follette, Robert La, La Follette's Autobiography: A Personal Narrative of Political Experiences (Madison, Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2013)Google Scholar, 668. In addition, Casdorph notes that Roosevelt supporters voted with Taft supporters on many of the decisions regarding contested delegates because it was their strategy “not to stand by any cases from the South or elsewhere that did not have genuine merit” (Casdorph, Republicans, Negroes, and Progressives in the South, 95). However, historian Lewis L. Gould presents a different view in his study of the delegate politics in Texas, arguing that a correct division should have given Roosevelt 24 delegates to Taft's 16. If this indeed had been the division, Taft's majority would have dropped to only a handful of votes above the 540 majority line. See Gould, Lewis L., “Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Disputed Delegates in 1912: Texas as a Test Case.” Southwestern Historical Quarterly 80 (1976): 33–56 Google Scholar.
90. It is important to note, however, that during procedural votes on the first days of the convention, Taft's majority remained slim. Had La Follette and Roosevelt managed to overcome their intraprogressive squabbling, Taft would have lacked the votes necessary to select Root and to decide the contested delegate races. See Milkis, Theodore Roosevelt, the Progressive Party, and the Transformation of American Democracy, 114.
91. “Republicans Meet; Plan Party Reform,” New York Times, May 12, 1913.
92. Sherman represented a logical choice as one of the negotiators between progressives and conservatives: he had supported Roosevelt as a delegate to the 1912 convention, but he later backed Taft in the general election. See Chandler, Aaron, “Senator Lawrence Sherman's Role in the Defeat of the Treaty of Versailles.” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 94 (2001): 279–303 Google Scholar.
93. “Republicans Vote Delegate Reforms,” New York Times, December 17, 1913; “Plan Cut in South in G.O.P. Delegates,” New York Times, April 8, 1914.
94. “Republicans Cut Down Delegates,” New York Times, October 26, 1914.
95. In a testimony to the U.S. Senate's Subcommittee on Privileges and Elections in May 1920, Senator George H. Moses (R-NH), who functioned as one of Wood's campaign managers, detailed the kind of expenses he was personally responsible for distributing in the South (additional money was invested through other sources), which included payments to Republican party leaders in Virginia ($1,000), North Carolina ($8,000), South Carolina ($600), Georgia ($5,000), Alabama ($4,000), and Tennessee ($1,000). See U.S. Congress, Senate, Presidential Campaign Expenses: Hearings Before a Subcommittee of the Committee on Privileges and Elections, 66th Congress, 2d session (May 24–October 18, 1920), 456–469. These donations were subsequently used to purchase the necessary votes: for example, in Georgia one of the local party leaders “spent money with a recklessness that you could scarcely believe” and “gave $500 to the delegates from Emanuel County to vote for instructions” (Presidential Campaign Expenses: Hearings, 465).
96. Wood never received more than 40 percent of support from the former Confederate states on any of the ten ballots.
97. Southern states voted for Harding at a higher rate and were quicker to embrace his candidacy than the rest of the convention: on the ninth ballot, Harding received 38 percent of the total vote, but 61.1 percent of the Southern vote. On the tenth ballot, Harding received 70.3 percent of the total vote and 90.1 percent of the Southern vote. See Official Report of the Proceedings of the Seventeenth Republican National Convention (New York: The Tenny Press, 1920), 213–14Google Scholar, 220.
98. Official Report of the Proceedings of the Seventeenth Republican National Convention, 233.
100. “Republicans Move for Reform in South,” New York Times, January 31, 1921.
101. Guy B. Hathorn, The Political Career of C. Bascom Slemp (doctoral diss., Duke University, 1950), 160.
102. Sherman, The Republican Party and Black America, 157.
103. Based on 1920 election results, Arkansas would gain one delegate; Florida, two; and Virginia one. (“Republicans Cut Quota From South,” New York Times, June 9, 1921.)
105. Sherman, The Republican Party and Black America, 157–58.
106. During the debate that took place in the RNC meeting of December 1923, Harmon L. Remmel, RNC member from Arkansas, noted that black voters “are the balance of power” in states like Illinois, Missouri, and Indiana, and additionally “they are nearly the balance of power in the state of Ohio. They have a large vote in the state of Pennsylvania, and I understand that in the state of New York they have got perhaps 150,000 colored men in the city of New York, and the Democratic party is flirting with them.” ( Kesaris, Paul et al. , Papers of the Republican Party (Frederick, MD: University Publications of America, 1987 Google Scholar), Reel 1, Frame 596).
107. Among the first decisions Coolidge made as president was to select Slemp as his personal secretary. The move was instantly regarded by Democrats as an indication that Coolidge would run for president in 1924, and that the appointment was the “first step to round up the delegates from Southern States” (cited in Hathorn, The Political Career of C. Bascom Slemp, 195). Whether or not this was the intention behind Slemp's appointment, the former Virginia congressman would become responsible for the Coolidge campaign's outreach in the South in advance of the 1924 convention (Hathorn, The Political Career of C. Bascom Slemp, 205–07).
108. “Johnson Enters Presidential Race as Foe of Reaction,” New York Times, November 16, 1923.
109. Sherman, The Republican Party and Black America, 158; Hathorn, The Political Career of C. Bascom Slemp, 208.
110. During the debate, RNC member and Senator Robert B. Howell (R-NE) insinuated that proponents of the 1921 decision were not informed that the issue would be brought up, stating that “we would not merely have delegations from the southern states here in reference to this matter if it had been thought in the northern states that this question was going to be reopened at this time. I had not an idea when I came to Washington that there would be a thought of re-opening this matter” (Kesaris et al., Papers of the Republican Party, Reel 1, Frame 609). Based on the roll call taken on the second day of the RNC meeting (during which the debate on overturning the 1921 decision was concluded), this does not appear to have resulted in a notably higher presence of Southern RNC members: 58 percent of members from the 53 states and territories that made up the RNC were represented during the meeting, but only 45 percent of Southern members were present (Kesaris et al., Papers of the Republican Party, Reel 1, Frame 623–625).
112. Lisio, Donald J., Hoover, Blacks, & Lily Whites: A Study of Southern Strategies (Chapel Hill, North Carolina: The University of North Carolina Press, 1985)Google Scholar, 39.
113. In subsequent testimony before the Special Senate Committee Investigating Presidential Campaign Expenditure, Holland admitted that he disbursed $10,200 in the South in the run up to the 1928 convention but denied Hoover had been aware of these expenses (Lisio, Hoover, Blacks, & Lily Whites, 52–53).
114. Congressional Quarterly's Guide to U.S. Elections, 228.
115. Lichtman, Allan J., Prejudice and the Old Politics: The Presidential Election of 1928 (Lanham: Lexington Books, 1979)Google Scholar, 151.
116. Lichtman, Prejudice and the Old Politics, 151–53.